New architecture school grad seeks job search advice
February 16, 2017 7:08 PM   Subscribe

Asking on behalf of Mr. Azuresunday, who's just graduated from the UNC Charlotte school of architecture and is looking for his first job at a firm. He's got a solid portfolio and has three informational interviews with well-known local firms under his belt. All three have said positive things, but none had specific job openings & the hunt is going slowly. He would love any advice from architecture and design Mefites on how to get his foot in the door and land his first job.

Long story short, Mr. Azuresunday graduated from the UNC Charlotte school of architecture a few months back and is looking for his first job at a firm in the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area. He's done three meet-and-greet interviews with respected local firms in the past month, all positive (one principal even went the extra mile and introduced him to several of his contacts) but it's still been slow going. The firms he's interviewed with have all said things about not having openings now due to their latest hiring cycle ending before the holidays, not having enough cash on hand yet this year to make new positions, and so on. My gut sense is that that's true, especially because he's bright and interviews pretty well.
However, he's a first generation college grad, and he is a little insecure/fearful that he might be getting politely brushed off, and is getting down on himself for being somehow inadequate.
He had some struggles in school but works insanely hard, and has good skills in all the major software (AutoCAD, Revit, Rhino, etc) plus hand drawing, building models, laser cut / CNC programming, etc. He's won a few contests, is part of a planned project in Ghana with some school friends, and was awarded a Gilman fellowship to do a semester in Shanghai. The one hole in his new-grad resume is an internship, which he didn't do because of the Shanghai semester (his host school's classes ran into American summer break).
Neither of us has experience looking for jobs in this field or in the Triangle, and we don't have much of a network either. He's hoping for general advice from people in architecture & design, as well as any specifics about the Triangle job market for architects, job sites to search on, what the yearly hiring cycle is like (busy vs. slow times), places besides firms to look at, and ways to make friends/network/get interviews. Any help or ideas would be amazing!
posted by azuresunday to Work & Money (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Architecture sucks. I'm married to an architect (who eventually left the field), and my sister is one as well (hi K!). Jobs are hard to come by in the field. Just keep at it and something will pan out, but it's a tough field that's always in a feast-famine cycle. Consider moving to open more doors. Check out Archinect if that's still at thing.
posted by so fucking future at 7:14 PM on February 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

What degree does he have? BS or BA in Arch? BArch? MArch?

The tricky thing with a recent grad is just lack of experience in the field, because the working environment is, generally, completely different from school. It's good that he knows the programs he does, but it's a completely different thing to know what to put on the drawings so that a building can be built from them. If he had a few years experience, he probably wouldn't have much of a problem getting on somewhere, but that's going to be a big hurdle to get over. It might be different in the Triangle, but I feel like this is a fairly easy market at the moment, compared to say, 2009.

Where to look can depend a lot on where you're at. When I lived in San Diego, it was all craigslist, with a few firms placing positions on the job board at the AIA. The last few years in the upper midwest (Wisconsin and Michigan), I've basically just contacted firms directly - there's so few candidates around that there's not really a point in advertising and a lot of firms around here will talk to just about anyone qualified who contacts them. Archinect is a thing, but mostly for LA and New York (there are a few NC listings).

Otherwise, for other avenues, you may want to try talking to an employment agency that specializes in technical positions. It seems to vary regionally, but Aerotek's Milwaukee office had a lot of positions they wanted me to look at, and the people at ExpressPros had some contacts that I had already interviewed with. Sometimes you can find architectural work in odd places too - I worked in the distribution center planning department for a large retailer, basically designing their warehouses for a year. One of the people under me was a fresh arch school grad who eventually moved on to a regular firm. Construction companies frequently need people to make drawings as well.
posted by LionIndex at 7:48 PM on February 16, 2017

Also: in the depths of the recession, I had a few interviews (and I was lucky to even have those!) but nothing ever came through even though I felt like I did really well. I even went one place that tested me on Revit and told me I was the best they'd seen yet, but didn't get the job. I felt like I'd been blacklisted and had all kinds of paranoid fantasies that I knew weren't the least bit true, but kept gnawing at me anyway. Eventually I bumped into a former co-worker, who was laid off from the same place I was, and he said he felt the same way sometimes. So, it's hard, but it's just a thing.
posted by LionIndex at 7:55 PM on February 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

so fucking future, LionIndex - Thank you both for the advice. Moving isn't ideal because I'm in the NCSU engineering school and changing universities is a gigantic pain, but we would do it for the right job/firm.

To elaborate, he has a BA in Architecture. The "struggle" I mention had to do with a nasty parental divorce; he ended up dropping out for a year to work and help support siblings before coming back on FAFSA and scholarship money. A BArch would've meant an extra year, more burnout, more debt, etc. He intends to go back for a Masters after getting some work experience and paying down loans.

That said, he's not married to the idea of staying in architecture specifically, and is willing to work in other fields that use his skills. We're just not sure what those fields are in the Triangle.

Craigslist here is mostly a dead zone. There are a lot of big tract home and commercial firms which are very low-demand on architects but high demand on civil engineers and laborers; and a smallish number of high-end/modernist/boutique firms. As far as I can tell hiring seems to be pretty word-of-mouth and Linkedin/big website based.

Aerotek and placement firms are a good idea - I'll suggest that to him.
posted by azuresunday at 8:08 PM on February 16, 2017

I have a degree in construction management. I've noticed a lot of postings for project managers want someone with a degree in construction or architecture or similar. This could be an owner's representative, too- which could be a firm that just leases their ORs, or anyone that builds regularly like a state or a large company. Owners reps make sure that the owners get their full value of the contract. I've noticed some architects seem to take on this role a lot.

There are also design build firms who do their work in house. I became a draftsman at one such place because I could turn around minor (then major) changes faster than the guy they consulted with.
posted by Monday at 8:25 PM on February 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

I work in the architecture field, and I've had to job hunt a few times post recession. My rule of thumb is send out twenty resumes to get 4 or 5 interviews and 1 offer (likely a month or two after the interview).

It sounds like he was a good student- has he asked any of his professors for help in the job hunt? At least recommendations for where to send resumes?
posted by Kriesa at 8:27 PM on February 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

Kriesa - Thanks! He's corresponding with at least one of his professors, but I don't know the specifics. I'll ask him if there's others. I go to NCSU which has an architecture school, so I'm debating whether to walk over to their building and ask around. I suspect that may not be great etiquette though.

The places he's already interviewed at were very much like.. "You're great and we'd give you a job if we had one open" plus some vague stuff about 'we probably / maybe could hire in a month or so', but nothing firm. We're both crossing our fingers for them to get in touch but he can't sit around waiting by the phone.
posted by azuresunday at 8:35 PM on February 16, 2017

This is so fucking future's sister (Hi, J!)... and I am incredibly qualified to answer this question as I am both an architect AND one that spends much of my time in the Raleigh Office/Greensboro area for a current project. Ok- so here's the deal. Architecture is a hard profession and what no one tells you in school is that to make it you have to hustle. It isn't worth it if you don't really enjoy it.

1. Firms nearly exclusively hire for projects they have on the books. Especially for entry level- this isn't talent acquisition- its labor they are looking for. He should listen for word on the street of firms winning big projects. That is going to be who is hiring.

2. I'd strongly suggest getting his masters asap if that's his plan. A BA in Architecture is not at all the same as a B. Arch. It's very possible this might be a contributing factor if people are hiring for the long haul. You cannot easily become licensed if you don't have a B. Arch or a Master's. Smaller firms would want you to get licensed if they invest in training you.

3. Networking is way easier if someone instantly likes you because they went to the same school as you. Check out alumni events.

4. Look for a summer internship. You are going to have a tough time getting hired full time without previous work experience. Summer internships can lead to full time jobs. Firms are willing to take chances on non-permanent hires like interns. It also gives you a chance to trial the firm.

5. If he wants to PM me I can look at his work and give him some feedback. The firm I work in Raleigh is also not currently hiring, but I know people in the area and maybe I'll hear of something.

I graduated in the peak of unemployment in 2009. Somehow (after applying for over 50 jobs) I miraculously got my dream job that would have been a stretch even in a good economy. So stuff just eventually falls into place. It won't be easy, but it will work out. Good luck.
posted by KMoney at 9:04 PM on February 16, 2017 [6 favorites]

KMoney - awesome answer, thank you! I'll go ahead and send a PM.
posted by azuresunday at 10:17 PM on February 16, 2017

This is really more of an idea for when you think you've gotten to the "i need a job, any job" level of desperation.... I know a tad more about yacht designers than building designers, and the necessary thing now is 1) plans in Rhino (+add-ins) that can go straight to CNC, and 2) renderings of what the boat is going to look like. From my observation, a lot of the renderings are awful, or, at least, no better than pedestrian. If you can do a bang up job, you can probably scare up some part time work.

To generalize, great skills with design software transcend architecture, per se.
posted by SemiSalt at 2:34 PM on February 17, 2017

I am a licensed architect in Texas and have been on both sides of the interview. My firm is actually currently looking for entry level interns because of recent workload shifts. I am not trying to recruit, but I have been in many interviews recently and might have some helpful suggestions:

When interviewing new architectural interns, I already know that they will know nothing about the profession. Portfolios and school work is nice, but 90% of the hiring decision comes from one thing: Did the person communicate effectively during the interview. Architects spend most of their day (at least in my firm) communicating with consultants, clients, and other architects internally. If a person is not a strong communicator, that is not something we have time to teach so we will likely pass.

Being nervous in the interview is okay, actually I am leery of those who are not nervous. It makes me think that the person is overconfident, which does not play well in a team oriented environment.

Do your research on the firm you are going to interview with. Firms are WILDLY different based on the building types they focus on. I've been in too many interviews where we ask what the person knows about our firm, and their response is along the lines of "I think medical, right?" That is immediately a strike against. Know what their building types are, the main partners, major clients (usually on the websites), etc.

Hope this helps and good luck!
posted by Benway at 3:32 PM on February 17, 2017

Thanks everyone for the great answers!
posted by azuresunday at 1:16 AM on February 18, 2017

Hi, another architect here, also a recession graduate, so I have a lot of experience being rejected. I can confirm everyone above is describing the hiring landscape accurately. Some ideas:
- Start volunteering with Habitat for Humanity - this will be GREAT experience once he gets into an office - he'll know how stuff actually gets built, which is huge.
- Try to get a summer internship, or literally ANY professional experience he can.
- Consider working for fabricators that work with architects. Think: sheet metal, millwork, etc. Stuff that interesting architects might custom design and need good shop drawings for. Are there any interesting fabricators locally?
- Retail companies often have in-house design teams - are there any large (national or at least regional scale) local retailers he could look for opportunities with?
- University facilities departments, or other large organizations sometimes employ architects
- Sales rep for an architectural product (ceiling tiles, metal panels, steel studs - anything used in a building)
- Consider going straight to the M.Arch. As others have said, you can't get licensed with a BA (or rather, not easily) and it does make me think twice before investing in training someone who will not be able to move towards licensure. That said, it's not a total deal breaker, I hired a BA Arch just last year and they are doing great.
- Happy to look at his stuff and comment if you PM me.
posted by annie o at 7:11 PM on March 5, 2017

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